The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, is coming under harsh scrutiny following an avalanche of sexual abuse allegations against one of its best-known TV hosts.
The allegations involving as many as 300 victims of pedophilia or sexual abuse have been made against former TV entertainer Jimmy Savile, who died last year at age 84 after a long career in the British spotlight. He was popular on light entertainment programs for the BBC and a special favorite of young children.
Fallout from the BBC’s handling of the scandal has spread as far as the United States, where the publisher of The New York Times felt it necessary to defend the newspaper’s incoming chief executive officer who headed the BBC until last month.
Early this month ITV, a commercial British broadcaster, aired a TV program investigating claims that Savile had sexually abused under-aged girls. In the weeks since then, investigations have been launched internally by the BBC and also by the police. The scope of allegations have far exceeded the initial claims.
“We have now been able to identify 300 victims and it’s those victims, primarily women, there are one or two men involved so far. We’ve now been able to speak to 130 of them and from that 130 we have recorded about 114 allegations of sexual assault or serious sexual assault,” said police commander Peter Spindler, chief of the Scotland Yard unit investigating the allegations.
Many of the attacks Savile is alleged to have made were against young participants in BBC programs and on BBC premises. That has raised questions about what type of checks the BBC had in place to protect vulnerable individuals.
BBC management is also under scrutiny over how much it knew about Savile’s alleged pedophilia.
Over the past few weeks, it has emerged that rumors of Savile’s alleged pedophilia were widespread inside the BBC for many years. Following Savile’s death, the BBC was due to address the subject on its evening news program, “Newsnight.” But the program was shelved and instead the BBC aired tributes to the former host.
Now executives at the highest level of the BBC are under scrutiny over their handling of the Savile case.
The BBC’s new director general, George Entwistle, has faced questioning by British lawmakers, and Mark Thompson, the former BBC director general and incoming chief executive at The New York Times, has had to give his own account of what he knew about the Savile case.
The New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., issued a letter to the newspaper’s staff saying he was confident Thompson had no role in canceling the BBC’s “Newsnight” program that was to deal with the sexual abuse allegations against Savile.
Some industry analysts, however, doubt that one scandal, though serious, will cause permanent damage to the BBC’s reputation.
“Trust in the BBC is bigger than one individual. It’s bigger than one scandal,” said Ben Page, chief executive of market researcher Ipsos MORI. “It would take a successive series of scandals to ultimately really damage trust in the BBC. So undoubtedly it will be wobbly but it has a lot of resilience in its reputation.”
In addition to Jimmy Savile, the BBC says it’s now investigating claims of sexual abuse and harassment against nine staff members and contributors.